Film reviews and more since 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine review (2009)

Dir. Gavin Hood

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

I’m not sure mainstream audiences realize how massive the X-Men library of characters really is. I am informed by my close friends, many of whom are enthusiasts in early comic books, that the X-Men character roster stretches a mile wide and one cannot watch a few films of the X-Men franchise and expect to know all the characters of the series, let alone a select few in great detail.

It is precisely this reason why I feel that the idea of an X-Men Origins series being made is not such a bad idea, although with the middling reception and box office returns that Wolverine managed to recoup, I feel the studios are thinking differently. The X-Men film franchise has a sizable job of introducing a variety of new characters and villains along with giving them some sort of identification past their superpowers and throwing a conflict at them that they need to solve (or attempt to, at least) in the course of a film. Just the latter obligation is so heavy that it distracts from the other two points. Giving several X-Men characters their own film showing their beginnings and their development on a more personal basis would allow for more character resonation and depth, but also allow the films to spend more time developing stories and villains rather than trying to cram (or completely disregard) the film’s core heroes last minute.

Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine has a few missteps in terms of CGI, but on a story basis, it is wholly interesting and easy to sink into. Opening in 1845, it tells the story of Wolverine’s beginnings as James Howlett, a young boy who sees his father killed right before his eyes. These combined feelings of anger and sadness that wash over him activate his mutation of having long, metal claws that extend out of his knuckles, killing the man who killed his father only to realize that the man he killed was his father.

James flees his home with the man’s son Victor Creed who grows up to be Liev Schreiber, while James grows up to be Hugh Jackman. The two wind up being dedicated soldiers for the next century, fighting in the American Civil War, both World War I and II, and the Vietnam War, before killing their senior officer and being sentenced to death, which they both survive. Together, they are approached by William Stryker (Danny Huston) to work for Team X, a mutant organization, to which they both accept before James leaves after six years being disillusioned with the entire process.

To go on ruins the fun of watching Wolverine’s life unfold, which is interesting in itself. Jackman has gone from embodying the aura of Wolverine to quickly becoming the character, portraying him in many different lights, from emotional, to strong-willed, to violent, to uncontrollable, to vulnerable, and so forth. Jackman is assisted here by Schreiber, who manages to work with him to create an entertaining partnership that is less about buddy-buddy charisma but more about two men stuck together and bound by what seems to be a curse.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine lacks the clear love and affection for the material that director Bryan Singer delivered, along with being burdened by some poor CGI/green-screen work here and there, but the film is also missing the downright awful dialog that was present in X-Men: The Last Stand. Writers David Benioff (who wrote Troy and went on to write several episodes for HBO’s breakout hit Game of Thrones) and Skip Woods forgo the abundance of useless one-liners for drama, and director Gavin Hood changes pace from directing South African dramas (including the incredible Tsotsi) to a film that allegedly has more depth than one initially would think.

Hood comments on X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘s possible political side by saying, “Any movie that is simply about good versus evil…is in my view putting out into the world and certainly into a mass audience and young audience’s mind a rather dangerous philosophy, which is that there is good and evil in the simplistic and easily defined way. I think that for the last eight years, we’ve had that philosophy very much prevalent in the Bush administration that if you’re on the side of good, at least as you perceive it, then you can do no evil. That’s what’s so great about this character or about this movie for me and why I wanted to do it. This is a guy who recognizes his own capacity for evil and I think that’s exciting in a sort of popular culture kind of way.” Because Hood recognizes Wolverine’s deeper side and delivers it in a way that is critiquing of age-old philosophy, we get a film that subsequently gives us a more enriching endeavor than your average superhero film.

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, and Ryan Reynolds. Directed by: Gavin Hood.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality in North Central Illinois. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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